“And would you consider pride a fault or a virtue?” asks Elizabeth from Mr. Darcy.
“Maybe it’s that I find it hard to forgive the follies and vices of others, or their offenses against me. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever,” he answers.
I have definitely tried to use this period during which coronavirus has us in lock down as a time of introspection. I’ve strived as much as possible to find authenticity and meaning – and to attain a deeper understanding of those closest to me – a search for self. It is with that in mind that I sat to watch “Pride & Prejudice” (2005) directed by Joe Wright – and I found myself totally relating to Jane Austen’s main character – Elizabeth – and her personal journey of self-evaluation. Isn’t it delightful to find yourself connected to a character from the 18th century who learns the consequences of rushed discernments? All I can tell you is how blessed I find myself to have the movies – to have the literature that inspire them – and to have Jane Austen.
“Pride & Prejudice” follows Elizabeth Bennet and her family in rural England in the late 18th century which consists of four other sisters, and her parents Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. None of the five daughters can inherit the modest family estate for the property is entailed and can only be passed to a male heir. Mrs. Bennet is anxious to see all her daughters married – and that at least one of the girls marry well to support the others. Elizabeth, intelligent and quick witted, is the eldest and feels the pressure. “You give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person,” says Lady Charlotte of her. Elizabeth meets dashing and wealthy Mr. Darcy – and at first they think they dislike each other – but unbeknownst to one another they’re in love. On the surface the movie revolves around the significance of marrying for love vs. the communal pressure of marrying for money or prestige. Most universally and immediately to me, it speaks about how to love other people, understanding how to overcome prejudices and understanding the things that separate us from other people.
Joe Wright made his feature debut with this adaptation – and he made some bold decisions. He moved the time period in which the story takes place. He makes the family live In Longbourn — more rural. It’s a working farm with chicken, cattle and pigs – which brings Elizabeth connection to her environment and heightens their sense of poverty. Pay attention to the Bennets’ clothing – and that there’s mud on the hem of their dresses. Did you see her hem? Six inches deep in mud? comments snooty Miss Bingley. Wright emphasizes the realism in the story by incorporating handheld cameras and long takes of fluid action. We’re very much invested in the characters as we weave in and out of rooms. The camera follows Elizabeth – and it wanders. When the camera first notices Darcy – that’s when Elizabeth first catches a glimpse of him. The Netherfield Ball is an extraordinary scene – again, with long takes – candlelit indoors – warm and inviting and without cuts the camera moves outside – cool colors. It whirls and circles around Lizzie. It’s meant to be fluid and dizzying the way romance is. “Do you talk as a rule while dancing,” asks Darcy. There are some stunningly evocative shots like one of Elizabeth’s standing on a cliff – her dress blowing in the wind; and two wedding proposals – one under the rain in a neoclassical building and the other at dawn – both figures bathed with the sun rising between them.
The casting is phenomenal. A young Carey Mulligan in her first film plays Kitty while Jenna Malone and Rosamund Pike play the other sisters. Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland play the loving parents. Scene stealer Dame Judi Dench – is thunderously commanding in the small role of Lady Charlotte. Matthew MacFayden takes on the tricky role of Mr. Darcy and does well. Now keep in mind that it is very difficult to make you forget Colin Firth who will always be the perfect Mr. Darcy. Keira Knightley received her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress as Elizabeth – and she’s lovely – just lovely.
Mr. Darcy: “You have bewitched me body and soul. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”
Available to stream on Netflix and DIRECTV and to rent on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Microsoft, Redbox and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Deborah Moggach
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Joe Wright
Starring Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland, Tom Hollander, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone and Judi Dench
Adapting “Pride and Prejudice” for the Screen
“…While researching the late 18th century, Wright and his team kept records of discoveries and facts which were not spelled out in the film, but which enhanced their understanding of Austen’s finely wrought characters. Wright remarks, “The establishment of England was looking across the Channel at the French Revolution – and wondering how it might affect them. The upper classes were frightened, and made the decision to assimilate more with the lower classes. Hence, the Assembly Rooms dances in village halls, which people of Darcy and Bingley’s class would now attend. There, they would mingle with people they wouldn’t previously have ever met socially. It was a whole new era for society. For young women, this was very exciting – like, say, Prince William turning up at a High Street disco. Suddenly, marriage prospects were widened.”
Screenwriter Deborah Moggach, herself a novelist, notes, “I tried to be truthful to the book, which has a perfect three-act structure, so I haven’t changed a lot. It is so beautifully shaped as a story – the ultimate romance about two people who think they hate each other but who are really passionately in love. I felt, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ “The Bennet daughters in fact have to get married off or they face ruin; but, to a modern audience, these girls look pretty well-heeled! So we had to make their plight matter, in order that the audience cares about the outcome. They seem well-off – they live in a big house, with doting parents, they have a carriage and servants – but we had to convey that if they don’t marry well, they could end their lives in penury, shunned by their own class of people and the lower classes too.” Moggach reflects, “I’ve emphasized it as being Lizzie’s story. Unlike in the novel, she keeps her secrets to herself and they are a great burden to her. There are things she can’t confide to her parents, her best friend Charlotte, or even her beloved sister Jane. Lizzie suffers alone. She sees her father neglecting her sisters – he ignores Lydia’s follies, which facilitates her elopement – and she views her parents’ marriage as a tragicomedy. Lizzie sees Charlotte, for the sake of security, marry the odious Mr Collins, and sees her beloved older sister sink into lovesick misery. She also wonders if her own chance of happiness is disappearing. As she keeps all this to herself, we feel for her more and more. The truest comedy, I believe, is born from pain.” (focusfeatures.com)
Bringing “Pride & Prejudice” to the Screen
“Working Title co-chairs and Pride & Prejudice producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner reflect,…”Director Joe Wright’s previous work, including “Charles II: The Power & the Passion” [aired in the U.S. as “The Last King”], had really impressed us. We met with him, and his vision of how to make the film and tell the classic Austen story was in tune with ours. For all of us there was no point in reinventing the story, as it is such a worldwide favorite. But we wanted to present the story as it was written, casting actors at the ages Jane Austen indicated, and giving them a depiction which avoided the ‘chocolate box’ presentations that television veers towards. Joe is a true romantic, yet he also shoots the story in a modern way and without subverting it.”
The BAFTA Award-winning director’s unique approach was understandable since, as he admits, “I had never read “Pride and Prejudice,” nor seen a television version. I come from a background of television social realist drama, and so I suppose I was a bit prejudiced against this material, regarding it as posh. But as I read the script adaptation, I became emotionally involved and by the end I was weeping. So I read the book, and discovered that what Jane Austen had written was a very acute character study of a particular social group. I saw that she was one of the first British realists. She had read the gothic literature which was fashionable at the time, and she turned away from that, and started writing what she knew, thereby inventing a new genre. “I got excited about new ways to film the story which I don’t believe have been done before. I wanted to treat it as a piece of British realism rather than going with the picturesque tradition, which tends to depict an idealized version of English heritage as some kind of Heaven on Earth. I wanted to make Pride & Prejudice real and gritty – and be as honest as possible. Austen’s characters are young people – Lizzie is 20, Darcy 28, Lydia 15. The emotions they experience are those of young people falling in love for the first time. I was moved by that and sought to convey it.” Wright also drew on his experience of directing The Last King. “What I learned from directing that, my first period piece, was that if you utilize the specifics of a period very precisely in tandem with emotional truths, it all becomes relevant to a modern audience.” (focusfeatures.com)
The Making of “Pride & Prejudice”
“The filmmakers were determined to shoot the film completely on location in the U.K., where the camera would have the luxury of seeing outside from inside and vice versa, and could actually follow the characters indoors and outdoors. An 11-week shooting schedule was blocked out, and Groombridge, a moated 17th Century mansion, was chosen to be Longbourn, the Bennets’ house, where the only tranquillity is to be found in Mr. Bennet’s library. Webster notes, “It is quite unusual for a movie this size to be shot entirely on location. Part of Joe’s idea was to try to create a reality which allows the actors to relax and feel at one with their environment.” The approach proved viable early on; cast members, instead of retiring to movie trailers between scenes, would head into their own Groombridge bedrooms.
In seeking to avoid what he has referred to as “the picturesque tradition,” Wright comments, “I believe that when people do period films they are reliant on paintings from the period, because there is no photography. But in a painting, everything is formally composed; it’s not real life. Then they do wide shots to show off the period detail of the sets. I think that the detail is in the small things, like crumbs on a table, or flowers in a vase. Austen’s prose gave me many visual references for the people in the story, so I used a lot of close-ups of them, too. I also tried to cut out carriage shots. In a modern-day film, it’s not very interesting to see people simply get in a car and drive away, so why should it be more interesting to see people arriving and leaving in carriages? There are a lot of period film cliches; some of them are in the film and some are not, but for me it was important to question them.” (focusfeatures.com)
Casting the Role of Elizabeth Bennet
“Elizabeth Bennet is a character who has been strongly identified with, and cherished, by several generations. Keira Knightley describes her as “every girl’s dream.” Even so, Joe Wright admits, “I originally hadn’t considered someone as beautiful as Keira. I was looking for someone who didn’t fit the normal feminine conventions, and was bright and slightly difficult. I figured Lizzie Bennet would be quite difficult to live with; she’s tough-minded and questions everything all the time. “When I met Keira, I realized that she asks questions of herself and other people, and is really a tomboy. She has a lively mind and a great sense of humor. During shooting, she kept on surprising me. What does one look for in an actor? Originality of thought; somebody who is able and willing to give their heart to what they are doing, and is able to really listen to the other actors. Keira did all of that, and was a hard worker.”
Knightley was keenly aware of the pitfalls inherent in playing such a longstanding heroine. She says, “There was a huge pressure taking on the role; she’s one of the best roles in literature for girls. If you’re an actress and you get the chance to play her you definitely can’t say no. But it is scary, because when you read “Pride and Prejudice,” you feel like you own her; I know I did, and I’m sure everybody feels the same way and that they’ll have a very clear idea of who Elizabeth Bennet is. So this was an exciting challenge. “Jane Austen’s own critique of her the book was that she felt it was too lighthearted. She felt the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth wasn’t realistic enough. We took heed of her comments and tried to bring to the movie a realism that perhaps isn’t so much in the book, bringing out the idea that these sisters are two girls who have lived with each other and slept in the same bed for so many years now. They have annoyances and such, but they love each other and stand by each other, enjoying each other and sharing each other’s pain.” Knightley adds, “It was great being directed by Joe because he’s got a very clear vision of what he wants the entire piece to be like. So he can also say, ‘You can stray a tiny bit, that’s all right.’ And I think you have to do that to really own a character, to possess the role. It’s a different process to do a film based on a book, because the inner dialogue of your character is all written down. So if there was ever a scene where I was having problems, we would go back to the book and in some way or another it was right there. But, equally, you have to take a stand and say ‘OK, I know it says this in the book, but you know what? I can’t do it like that because it doesn’t make sense as far as this goes, so I’m going to have to change that slightly.’ And then you have to be brave and just do it.” (focusfeatures.com)
About Director Joe Wright
“Wright was born in 1972 in London, England. He grew up in a creative household – his parents founded a puppet company called The Little Angel Theatre. Wright always kept his eye on the arts, taking up painting and acting at a young age, but felt that the best he could do in life was to be a postman. Nonetheless, he developed an interest in film growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. With little instruction, he began pursuing his passion the old-fashioned way; making his own movies with a super-8 film camera. Despite being exceptionally bright and enterprising, Wright was a poor student because of his dyslexia. But on the strength of his homemade films and drawings, Wright was admitted to a private art school and later attended the Camberwell College of Arts, where he studied fine art and cinema. On of his short films, “Crocodile Snap” (1997), earned him several awards and nominations, including a nod at the 1998 BAFTA Awards, as well as a filmmaking scholarship with the BBC.
Wright started working in British television, beginning with the cult hit miniseries “Nature Boy,” (BBC, 2000) the directed “Bodily Harm” (Channel 4, 2002) and the period epic, “Charles II: The Power and the Passion” (A & E, 2003). The prolific young director made the jump to feature films with “Pride and Prejudice,” the 1813 Jane Austen classic about the Bennett sisters, notably the free-thinking Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), and their mission to marry into genteel society…His efforts paid off – “Pride and Prejudice” was a hit with critics, who widely embraced his grittier interpretation, while the film was a moneymaker at the box office, grossing over $120 million worldwide. The film earned four Oscar nominations, including a best actress nod for Knightley. For his efforts, Wright earned a BAFTA award for most promising newcomer…After the dust settled, Wright was invited to direct another adaptation. He was given present-day literary giant Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, “Atonement”…Wright reunited with leading lady Knightley, who was joined onscreen by James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave. Critics embraced the film when it made the rounds at the festivals in Venice and Toronto, praising it for its fidelity to the award-winning novel. For a follow-up project, Wright directed “The Soloist” (2009), the true-to-life story about violin prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who developed schizophrenia while attending the Juilliard School, leaving him homeless and performing on the streets for money.” (web.archive.org) Following “The Soloist,” Wright went on to direct “Hanna” (2011), “Anna Karenina” (2012), “Pan” (2015) and “Darkest Hour” (2017).